2015 November


Maurice Strong and the IDRC

Posted by on November 30, 2015  /  0 Comments

I read today that Maurice Strong had passed away. I’d never met him. But I knew of him. The very first paper that I wrote in Graduate School was on how IDRC mobilized research networks. This was in December 1979, 37 years ago.
When I first saw a tweet about the Daily Star report, I thought Telenor’s Bangladesh affiliate was following in the steps of its Myanmar counterpart and reporting daily data user percentages. This is something any operator can do based on the information contained in Call Detail Records (CDRs). But I was disapponted. It was based on a sample survey: The leading mobile phone operator studied some 1,510 school-going students aged 11-18 years between June and July last year, to understand the internet usage patterns and practices of the youth in Bangladesh. I do see the value of sample surveys for understanding the user behaviors of specific demographic segments.
Key officials from the Ministry of Education and the National Institute of Education along with a range of stakeholders and suppliers of education assembled at the BMICH on the 26th of November to discuss the findings of LIRNEasia’s ICTs in the classroom Systematic Review. The findings were placed in context of other research such as the recent PISA study. Two speakers from neighboring countries, Anir Chowdhury from the Access to Information Unit of the Prime Minister’s Office of Bangladesh and Longkai Wu of the National Institute of Education Singapore, provided a comparative perspective. Sri Lankan efforts to leverage ICTs for educational purposes such as Guru.lk and e-takshilawa.

Mergers sweeping South Asia

Posted by on November 27, 2015  /  1 Comments

First it was Bangladesh: Robi and Airtel. Then it was India: Reliance and Sistema plus maybe Aircel. Sri Lanka: SLT/Mobitel and Hutch. Now Pakistan: Mobilink and Warid. VimpelCom is looking to combine Pakistani unit Mobilink with local rival Warid Telecom, claiming the first merger in the country’s telecoms sector.
Myanmar has launched meaningful mobile service in 2014. And the country has secured fourth global position during third quarter of 2015 in terms of net addition, said Ericsson’s latest report. It is ahead of Bangladesh and Indonesia in this category. Ericsson also predicts that Myanmar will surpass Bangladesh in terms of LTE and smartphone penetration by 2018. Smartphone subscriptions penetration in Myanmar, according to Ericsson analysis and World Urbanisation Prospects 2014 from the United Nations, is currently around 30pc and will more than double by 2018.
What do we know about the integration of ICT in education in Asia? Longkai WU, National Institute of Education (NIE) Nanyang Technological University Singapore.  
What do we know about the integration of ICT in education in Asia? Anir Chowdhury, Policy Advisor Access to Information (a2i) at Prime Minister’s Office, Bangladesh, November 26, 2015
Some people are surprised that after all these years of speaking, responding, discussing, I still prepare when asked to speak in public. So when I was asked to serve as a discussant at a CEPA conference on infrastructure and urbanization, I read the papers. They had very little to do with the subject matter, choosing instead to regurgitate the obsolete ideological debates of the 1970s. But one sentence caught my eye: “After seven decades of national development and an expansion of the middle-class over a couple of decades, there are more poor people in Sri Lanka today than at independence.” No reference was provided, but I started digging.
I’ve always wondered what the attraction of national satellites is. Especially geo-stationary satellites for telecom. Below is the explanation I finally came up with and my suggestion of what is appropriate in this day and age. The excerpt is from a piece published in Pakistan and Sri Lanka a few months back. In the 1960s, massive antenna connected to a geostationary satellite provided a qualitatively superior solution for international backhaul over the extant methods of copper cables wrapped in gutta-percha or radio waves that bounced off the ionosphere.
Just a few sentences but this is a new solution to a real problem. I propose to form a special purpose company under the Information and Communication Technology Authority (ICTA) to bring about sharing of telecommunication resources efficiently and to protect air waves and the environment. All the fiber optics owned by telecommunication companies and other authorities including the Ceylon Electricity Board, Road Development Authority and Sri Lanka Railways as well as spectrum and mobile towers are to be brought into this company. Here are my answers to a journalist’s questions: 1) The budget has proposed the creation of a special purpose company under the ICTA to own and operate telecom backbone infrastructure. Is this practically possible?
I first heard about government entering the business of manufacturing phones when I was (futilely) advising the government of Bangladesh on formulating a national telecom policy. They had some bankrupt telecom equipment factories and I was asked what to do with them. I said, not much. Then my friends in India started to show me numbers for what India was spending on importing equipment for the telecom industry. This cannot continue, they said.
Bangladesh has experienced temporary outage of Internet when the government blocked popular social media sites on November 18. It could not skip the watchful eyes of the man who can see the Internet. Here is the visual of Internet outage in Bangladesh.

What is big data?

Posted by on November 18, 2015  /  0 Comments

I spent the last two days at a meeting on big data in the global south. The sixty people in the room had no shared understanding of big data, which led to some interesting discussions. Then someone stated that he wished big data would be defined. Big data is characterized by volume and variety. The third part of the 3 Vs, velocity, is irrelevant, as has been argued by many including Viktor Mayer-Schonberger.
Few weeks back we reported, without endorsement, a New York Times piece about the possibility of sabotage of trans Atlantic cables. Sabotage is a real threat, says cable expert Doug Madory, but not on the US-Europe routes. The thing that might not be widely appreciated is the fact that telecommunications lines are also sabotaged with some regularity. Perhaps the most relevant incident to this discussion involved divers (pictured right) who were arrested by the Egyptian Navy in March 2013 for detonating underwater explosives off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt, ostensibly in an attempt to scavenge for scrap metal. The incident damaged SeaMeWe-4, causing major disruptions to Internet service across the Middle East and South Asia.
Grace Mirandilla Santos, LIRNEasia Research Fellow, is nothing if not persistent. She has been hammering away at the broadband quality problem in the Philippines for a long time now. The big party thrown by the government for APEC leaders in Manila becomes the latest opportunity for her: A note to APEC delegates: this brand of hospitality does not, by any measure, reflect what the ordinary Filipino experience every day. Traffic navigation app Waze has branded Manila as having the worst road traffic compared to other cities that use it. NAIA airports experience congestion everyday, and most recently was plagued with the “tanim-bala” (bullet-planting) scam that allegedly preys on tourists and overseas migrant workers.
I was a little surprised to be invited to a meeting on big data organized by the Institute of Technology and Society of Rio de Janeiro. But then I realized that the event was scheduled back to back with IGF 2015 in Joao Pessoa and that they were basically piggy-backing on the attraction of large numbers of international experts to Brazil in November 2015. With some effort, I was able to find a few people who were not lawyers participating in the event, but it was dominated by those of the legal persuasion. This meant that there was a presumption that laws and regulations were needed to avoid the bad things that could be imagined. Usually, what we have is a battle of imaginations.
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